By 1Life in support of #Movember
Terrified is a sure emotion that someone feels when they are told they have cancer. It’s not easy to process this information immediately and, at first, fear is all that consumes a cancer patient’s thoughts. Fear of the unknown, fear for their family and fear for the road that lies ahead.
Although these fears are completely understandable, the reality is that – when it comes to certain cancers and stages of these cancers – there are treatment options available and ways in which someone can really rise above these dreaded diseases.
Getting the necessary education on them however, is not always easy and many consumers don’t know that there are very successful medical procedures that can help them conquer cancer.
As we celebrate National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to educate South African males on the treatment types available to them, to bring to light the survival rates of those who are treated early on and to help navigate scary waters for newly diagnosed cancer patients, as well as any and every male out there.
Before you select a treatment option – consider the following:
While choosing a treatment option is critically important, there are several factors that influence this decision. These include: cancer stage, personal preferences, overall health, age and expected lifespan, side effects and the like.
Because this is an emotional period it is very important that you take the time to digest the information you have received, to research it, ask questions, even get a second opinion if you want to - but ensure that you are fully educated on what you are facing.
Side effects and longer-term impact/consequences of treatment options and what these would mean for your life and wellbeing, also need to be considered.
For example, certain research shows that prostate cancer survivors (who were diagnosed at the average age of 60) showed signs of sexual dysfunction or urinary and bowel issues. Furthermore, testicular cancer side effects could include fertility issues and low testosterone.
These long-term effects could have a marked impact on your future and so, for example; if you are hoping to have a family, it would be important to understand the lowest risk treatment to avoid fertility issues.
Weighing up your options:
Let’s take a look at treatment options for prostate cancer.
Active surveillance or observation:
This is where no specific treatment is provided but rather the patient is monitored through blood tests and regular check-ups. This can only be an option if Gleason scores indicate that the growth is slow, it is not causing any symptoms and if it is only present in the prostate.
Some patients may choose to start with treatment immediately, where surgery forms a key option – called radical prostatectomy (an operation to remove the prostate and some of the tissue surrounding it).
Such treatment is usually used in the early stages of cancer, if the cancer recurs after surgery or if it is advanced – in the aim of relieving symptoms. There are two types of radiation therapy (external and internal Brachytherapy).
This is the use of extreme cold temperatures that freeze and eradicate cancer cells. Cold gases are injected through needles – between the scrotum and the anus – to freeze and destroy the prostate.
Chemo – as it is commonly called – is administered by giving patients anti-cancer drugs either intravenously or by mouth, enabling them to enter the blood stream and tackle cancer that may well have spread to other parts of the body.
This type of therapy aims to reduce levels of male hormones, or stop androgens from assisting prostate cancer cells in growing/developing. Hormone therapy is great to ensure the lowering of hormone levels (androgens) and ensuring they are not able to get into the prostate cancer cells – shrinking cancer cells or ensuring they grow slowly for a duration of time.
There is a cancer vaccine available – Sipuleucel-T – which aims to help the body’s immune system fight prostate cancer cells. This vaccine is especially made up for each individual person using white blood cells that undergo a protein exposure process. This is usually used for advanced cancer.
Bone directed treatment:
Prostate cancer, if it spreads, has a tendency to go straight for the bones. Therefore, bone directed treatment aims at using a certain drug to slow down bone cells – ensuring that they stay healthy and unaffected by the prostate cancer.
Each stage of prostate cancer has a more suitable treatment option and as such, while it is important to make decisions based on what your personal preferences are and how it may affect your life in future, it is advisable to take advice from medical professionals and let them guide you through the process.
Talk to other men who have been through this and remember that – prostate cancer is curable, if caught and treated early.
Wilton Tshakaza, 65-year-old prostate cancer survivor and amputee says: “It helps a lot to talk about it. People my age don’t know what a prostate is. I wish all of us men would go and check once a year for prostate, because it’s a slow-moving cancer, but people only find out really late that they have it. Early detection is better because then they can avoid chemotherapy or surgery.”
* To read Wilton Tshakaza's full story click here